Hornets swarm Crusaders to open district tourney

C.J. Mathews spots a teammate for an open layup during the Hornets' 66-52 upset of Riverside Christian on Monday, Feb. 13.

C.J. Mathews spots a teammate for an open layup during the Hornets’ 66-52 upset of Riverside Christian on Monday, Feb. 13.

WENATCHEE – The post-season is a new season, and the Oroville boys basketball team is now 1-0 on the road to the state tournament.

Playing with both verve and nerve, the Hornets overcame a serious bout of foul trouble and stanched a furious Riverside Christian rally in the fourth quarter to upset the Crusaders 66-52 Monday, Feb. 13, in the opening round of the Class 2B District 5/6 tournament.

“We knew it was a game we could win,” said Connor Hughes, who had a pair of 3-point plays during Oroville’s final stretch run. “I didn’t know we could beat them by 14.

“We just want to make it to state. We know this was just one game.”

It might have been a 14-point victory, but the game was in doubt until a 17-4 run over the final three minutes put the game away.

“That’s what I’ve been waiting for all year,” said Oroville coach Allen Allie. “Right now is all that counts. I told the guys, nothing that came before today matters.

“I might be more excited than they are right now, just because of the way we played. That was awesome.”

It was apparent from the start that the Hornets were ready to take it right at the Crusaders, who came into the game with a 16-4 record and recently upset top-seeded White Swan. Riverside Christian also boasted a deep bench, while Allie had just two reserves available and played just one.

After a back-and-forth first half, the Hornets trailed 26-24. But a 17-1 Oroville run in the third quarter, sparked by a defense that forced a number of Crusader turnovers, 3-pointers from Connor Hughes and Michael Garrett and a pinpoint passing to Dylan Rise by C.J. Mathews, turned the tide Oroville’s way.

The lead didn’t last, though. Riverside Christian got the ball inside to forward Tucker Jones, whose unconventional shot attempts seemed to draw fouls like flies.

Jones practically lived on the foul line in the fourth quarter, and in a two minute stretch, Mathews, Hughes, Luke Kindred and Zack Speiker each picked up their fourth fouls as Allie furiously shuffled his lineup both to protect against losing players for good and give his guys some rest.

Jones hit a pair of free throws with three minutes left to cut the Oroville lead to 49-48, and momentum was clearly on the Crusaders’ side. But that was when Kindred made possibly the play of the game, hauling down a pass that seemed destined for the stands and flipping it to Hughes for a 3-point play.

“I didn’t think I could get to it at all,” Kindred said. “I just kind of stretched for it and it landed in my hands.

“I knew Connor was behind me, though, so I knew what I was going to do with it.”

Hughes followed with a steal, leading to a Garrett layup, and Speiker scored consecutive baskets after a pair of Oroville defensive stops. Suddenly the lead was back up to 10 at 58-48 with just over a minute to play.

“Coach just said we needed to settle down,” said Mathews of the rally. “We just needed to run our offense, be patient and not turn the ball over. We played some good defense and got some fast breaks that broke us away.

“It’s by far the best we’ve played. Everyone realizes we need to do that to win in the tournament.”

“Turnovers have told the story for us all year,” Allie said. “We did the best job we have all season of controlling those. We struggled rebounding, but not turning the ball over more than made up the difference.”

Garrett led the Hornets (13-8) with 23 points, with Hughes added 21 and Mathews 12.

Jones finished with 23 and Luke Vickers added 15 for the Crusaders.

The victory gives Oroville a third shot at Lake Roosevelt on Wednesday. A victory would put the Hornets in Saturday’s district title game; a loss sends them to a winner-to-regionals, loser-out game on Friday.

Oroville 48, Liberty Bell 45

LIBERTY BELL – The Hornets, playing without Kindred, who was serving time for his ejection against Lake Roosevelt (see below), came from behind to edge Liberty Bell 48-45 to end the Mountain Lions’ playoff hopes on Thursday, Feb. 9.

The Hornets had already wrapped up their third seed into Monday’s district playoffs, but Liberty Bell needed a victory just to get into the post-season and used a 17-8 second quarter to take a 40-36 lead into the fourth quarter.

Hughes scored six of his team-high 13 points in the fourth quarter to help the Hornets come back for the win.

Mathews added 12 points and Speiker added 10 as the Hornets head to districts with a 7-5 league mark.

Lake Roosevelt 74, Oroville 53

OROVILLE – The Hornets gave league champion Lake Roosevelt a battle on Senior Night, overcoming a small start and three first half dunks by Ty Egbert to pull to within 12 points after trailing by as many as 26 in the first half and 38-21 at the break.

The tide turned after Luke Kindred was ejected for a flagrant foul after he and Egbert tangled and went to the floor under the basket. It appeared as though the two were mutually engaged in fighting for position in the paint when they went down together, but instead, the Hornets were without one of their starters for the final quarter and a half (and the next game against Liberty Bell).

LR responded with a 16-8 run to pull away.

“We came out with nothing to lose, and the guys certainly played that way through the whole game,” Allie said. “We didn’t come away with the win, but I’m still pretty happy with how these guys played with districts just around the corner.

“We did a good job defensively but LR had more weapons than we could catch up to.”

Senior Raul Rodriguez drew his first varsity start for Senior Night and jumped center against Egbert to lead off the game.

Garrett scored 21 points, Hughes had 18 and Mathews 10 for the Hornets.

Egbert had 18, Kramer Carlson scored 14 and Keith Rosenbaum had 11 for the Raiders.